A Bench for Conversation

containR loves conversations about public space. Creative community. Exclusionary design. Homelessness. Access. Public space. Art parks and the commons. Citizen-led and artist-driven design and execution. These are all important conversations.

Our initiatives at containR shine a light on the complexity of public spaces. Our most recent bench donation is a good example. What happens when an antique bench is given to the containR site as a gift for an elderly mother to rest during her daily stroll? A bench positioned so the public can sit and enjoy a garden, a stage, a gathering place to connect with community at a creative placemaking site. Sometimes, you get a Twitter storm...

Photo Courtesy of Twitter/@isaacazuelos      

Photo Courtesy of Twitter/@isaacazuelos      

This bench was highlighted in a recent Twitter conversation about hostile and exclusionary design and homelessness. The bench is an antique that was found and installed by a passionate city worker who heard a request by a caring son and his elderly mother who found a surprising way to celebrate her 90th birthday: by installing a bench for all to enjoy. The bench is a classic 1920s design, painted in vibrant rainbow colours. It is not meant to represent the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ2+ community. The rainbow design was selected by children in a daycare, inspired by the beauty of rainbows. The design was not chosen to deter the homeless. The bench was not designed nor paid for by the city. The placement of the bench was a citizen-led intervention, intended to surprise a 90-year-old mother with a bench for her to sit and rest while enjoying the community.

The issues brought up by the recent conversations on Twitter are important. Should cities and developers be the only ones in control of public space and the commons? How do we create spaces that embrace the full spectrum of a community? One which includes a varied ethno-socio-cultural range that makes a city a vibrant place to live, work and create.

Springboard Performance, a registered charity and not-for-profit with a 30-year track record working in the arts, started containR 10 years ago to connect communities through art and creative ideas. Along the way, we have worked with community organizations, artists, neighbours, permaculture lovers, green designers, and maker communities. containR was the first public art park in Calgary, and the first public space in Calgary to have an apiary. containR has supported green event garbage removal in its early stages of development in the city, and has designed numerous projects that have connected artists and the community to experience and live a creative life. We have provided free tickets and access for marginalized communities to many of our events, ensuring that all communities have access to the cultural hubs that they deserve.

Springboard Performance has a long history with public furniture and public space design. We have designed and built various benches, stages, meeting rooms, cinema facilities, rehearsal spaces, picnic tables, foosball tables, ping pong tables, pallet furniture, recycling depots, and gardens.

containR loves a good bench. Many have been built. Many stolen. Some destroyed. Some wheeled around the site in ever-changing clusters. Some are community-built, donated antiques, or brand new. containR is a community-driven gathering space for creation and experimentation, where all are welcomed and embraced. We are excited to have more furniture on the site in the future, and are keen working with the community to build and install them.

containR is not a city-run initiative. Instead, it is a collaboration between a cultural institution and neighbours working together on animating the community through public space intervention. This is a citizen-led experiment in placemaking.

Want a different kind of bench? A different kind of community meeting place? Participate in making it possible. Bring your ideas, energy, and resources. Work on a design as a community.  Build the community you want to see. We can all play a part in the creative design and care of public spaces.

- The Springboard and containR team

Springboard Performance's containR, is a pop up arts and culture hub made of retrofit shipping containers which connects communities through art and creative ideas.

Do you have a bench or picnic table to donate to containR Art Park? Contact us at: containR@springboardperformance.com

Want to support other placemaking initiatives at containR? Consider making a monetary donation dedicated to public furniture, artist programming, permaculture garden and mural art and more!